Ghent Belgium The City of Surprises
Ghent also called “Gent” is the third largest city of Belgium in the Flemish Region. Ghent is a perfect blend of Dutch architecture, canals and industries. Ghent to Brussels only takes 35 minutes by Train and Ghent to Bruges is almost the same. To reach Ghent from Antwerp, it will take one hour by train. The city is a vibrant university city with beautiful narrow cobblestone streets.
Ghent is like a secret surprise or an extra bonus to your trip in Belgium, if you decide to visit this city. Most of the tourists do not know much about Ghent, but it is slowly making its place as a favorite tourist destination because of the wonderful reviews of the tourists who have visited it. The place is equally loved by the locals of Belgium, especially because of the great art, superb food and medieval architecture. You will be astonished by the vibrant night life and the famous Gruut beer of the city.
Ghent is still not crowded as Bruges and other tourist destinations of Belgium. Which makes it more convenient, calm and peaceful for the visitors. The city is full of great amenities and represents the true European culture. The city has more much more vegetarian restaurants than other cities of Europe and that’s why Ghent is also called a “Veggie Capital of Eruope”.
The Archaeological finds have stated the existence of humans in Ghent from the Stone Age. Saint Bavo’s and Saint Peter’s Abbey were founded in 650 AD. The city was attacked twice by Vikings in 851 and 879. The city started to flourish from the 11th century under the protection of the County of Flanders and became one of the biggest cities of Europe. The city suffered a defeat from Philip the Good in 1453 which then led to a political and economical shift towards Antwerp and Brussels.
The Native to Ghent, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain punished the city after the Revolt of Ghent. He made the nobles of the city to walk barefoot with noose around their necks. The noose called “strop” in Dutch became the identity of the residents for a long time. The residents were being called as “Stroppendragers” which means noose bearers. In this Era the Saint Bavo abbey was demolished to form a fortress for Royal Spanish troops. The famous European Eight year’s war ended the international importance of Ghent. In 1745, the city was captured by the French and later became part of Austrian Empire in 1748 because of a treaty.
The textile industries started to flourish in Ghent in the middle of 18th century with the introduction of first mechanical weaving machine in Europe. In 1814, Ghent became part of the United Kingdom of Netherlands. In 1816, the city established its own university. Ghent also remained in occupation of Germany in both world wars.
15 Amazing Things to do in Ghent
Ghent Walking Tour
Ghent is a beautiful blend of modern and medieval architecture. The city is compact and very friendly for bikes and pedestrians. Most of the main attractions are at a small walking distance from one another. So, the place becomes ideal for tourists who love to wander around. Exploring the city is so wonderful as you can walk around, take a break for a great lunch or drink and then continue the tour again soaking up the city’s atmosphere.
The beautiful canal side architecture is surely going to mesmerize you. The canal runs along the center of the city. The center of the city has some beautiful churches, stylish boutiques, galleries, restaurants and bars. To enjoy Ghent to its full extent, it is suggested to plan a stay rather than just a one-day city tour.
Belfry of Ghent
Belfry is a great place to enjoy the panoramic views of the city of Ghent. There is an elevator in this 14th-century bell tower so you can save yourself from a 300+ stairs climb. Belfry is declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bell-tower was constructed in 1380 as a watchtower and the carillon was used to announce time and warnings. The tower has a huge bell called “Roland”. This is a must visit place for tourists in Ghent; they can enjoy the views of the city, the St. Nicholas Church at one side and the Saint Bavo church on the other side.
Gravensteen is a 12th-century old castle located in the center of the city over the Lys River. If you are in Ghent, you cannot miss this building, as it stands out with its beautiful appealing architecture. Gravensteen means “The Castle of the Counts” as it was the residence of the counts of the Flanders from 1180 to 1353.
After the counts left, the castle served as a prison and a court. Later it became a cotton mill and gradually started to turn into ruins. The castle was then restored into its original shape and opened for the public. The castle displays unique collection of torture equipment and many armor suits. You can learn more about the history and collection of the castle by an entertainment styled audio guide by a Belgian comedian. The castle also provides splendid views of the city from the top. The castle is transformed into a winter wonderland during the Christmas time and is the decoration is themed on fairytale stories.
St. Bavo’s Cathedral
Saint Bavo’s cathedral is also one of the most visited places of the city. The cathedral is a magnificent Gothic structure and has a 290-foot bell tower. The cathedral has four grand organs, a Baroque high altar, a painting by Peter Paul Rubens and a pulpit which is made of marble and wood.
The main attraction of the cathedral is the Altarpiece officially titled as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. While the visit to the St. Bavos is free but to visit the Altarpiece, visitors have to pay for a ticket and are prohibited to take a photograph. This is an amazing 20-panneled artwork which was completed in 1432 by the Van Eyck brothers. This artwork is known as one of the oldest oil paintings in the world. Interestingly, the painting was stolen, traded and was almost destroyed but it survived all of that. One of the original panels is still missing. Painting was restored and cleaned and appears like a beautiful new painting and the missing panel is replaced by a reproduction.
Saint Nicholas Ghent
Saint Nicholas church was built in 13th century and is also one of the most prominent landmarks of Ghent. This is also located near the Belfry and Saint Bavos and is one of the three main structures of the city center. The Gothic building was constructed using bluestone from the Tournai area. The building has a central tower with two more towers: one of each side. This is one of the most pretty structures of Ghent city.
Ghent Canal Cruise
Whenever I visit a new city, I always like to explore it by all three means, by foot, by bus and by cruise. If you are tired of walking and still want to continue onwards then try canal cruise to see Ghent from a different perspective. There are many cruise companies that offer historic tour offers. These guided tours will also provide more details about the history of the city and the beautiful buildings around it.
quays of the Lys River
This is one of the must visit for the people who want to sit by the waterside and enjoy Belgian beers. This site dates to the 5th century with wheat market on the left bank and Grass market in the right bank of the Lys River passing in between of both. Most of the beautiful historic buildings have converted into outdoor cafes. The area is very picturesque and the walk around this area is a treat to the eye as you will enjoy the beautiful structures along with the Lys River.
Ghent Street Art
Ghent is the city that not only promotes the street art but also celebrates it. There is a vibrant street art culture flourishing in the city center of Ghent. Many well-known artists and many newcomers have contributed to the street art throughout the city. The Graffiti Alley (Werregarenstraat) is one of the must places to visit if you want to experience creativity at its best. This street is filled with a mixture of artwork from many artists. The graffiti started in in the Ghent Festivals of 1995 and then continued. These beautiful wall arts consist of paintings, cartoon characters, fictional creatures and animals. These paintings keep changing every week with new designs replacing them.
The Holy Food Market
The Holy Food Market was once a church and then acted as a library for some time. Today, it is one of the most attractive places to enjoy your food in Ghent. Some people refer to it as a temple of gastronomy. The settings are inspired by some of the best food halls of Rotterdam and Copenhagen. Having your favorite meal in this bright hall with vaulted ceilings is going to leave you a juicy memory of a lifetime.
There is a nice variety of food to choose from more than dozen stalls that offer tasty cuisines from all around the world. These cuisines range from Chinese, Indians, Japanese, Indian and European dishes. There is a bar in the center of the hall. There is a nice ice cream stall by Magnum where you can customize your own ice-cream.
Butchers’ Hall in Ghent
The butcher’s hall Ghent was originally a covered market dating back to the 15th century when the meat sales had to be centralized. The building has an impressive open trussed roof, and the rafters support traditional drying of Ham. The Butcher’s Hall is a great place to feast on the traditional and authentic East Flemish dishes. There is a variety of more than 170 regional foods which is going to give you a tough choice in selection. Ham is the most consumed traditional dish here but other food like Tierenteyn mustard, cheese croquettes, Breydel bacon are also famous with a choice of local beers.
Vrijdagmarkt Square is one of the oldest and largest squares of the city decorated with the line of colorful buildings that attract the eyes with their ornate gables and balconies. This square is mostly famous because of the weekly market that is held here on every Friday and Saturday. The market gets filled with numerous stalls that sell everything from clothes, household items to food and local delicacies. There are also many cafes and restaurants around the square. There is a prominent statue in the square. This statue represents the famous businessman “Jakob van Artevelde” from the 14th century.
Dulle Griet Beer Bar
There are many bars around the city, but Dulle Griet Beer bar attracts a lot of visitors because of its unique style and traditions. The bar offers more than 500 beers to its visitors. The interior of the bar is decorated with old advertisements of beer, beer barrels and wagon wheels creating a medieval design effect. This bar is famous for its special beer called “Max”.
Max is served in a huge custom-made beautiful glass with a bell, which when rings, you need to put your shoe in a basket that lowers from the ceiling. The basket will go up and will come down when you are finished. Interesting, this is a fun way designed to keep the visitors from stealing the custom-made beautiful glass.
Cuberdon of Ghent
Cuberdon is the famous and traditional delicacy of Ghent city. Best place to find it is in the Groentemarkt near the Butcher’s hall. This dark purple sugar cone is coated with a thick sugar shell from outside and has a filling inside. If you are in Ghent, looking to collect traditional elements, this is one of the musts for trying or takeaway as souvenir. Dark Purple is the raspberry flavored cone. There are many other flavors like apple, strawberry, blueberry and lemon. You can also get a bag of assorted tastes and try all of them.
This is one of the main squares of the city where you will find the most people. The three main structures of the city are near to this square and hence more tourists come to relax, shop or eat at this place. There are many beautiful historic buildings that have been turned into bars and restaurants with outdoor seating. The small square looks like a huge outdoor café when its crowded
The Ghent city is also called the city of festivals as it hosts many festivals throughout the city. The city also earned the title of UNESCO Creative City of Music because it hosts two wonderful music festivals. One of them is the Ghent Jazz Festival that starts in the end of June and offers the concerts and acts from many famous Belgian stars. The second is the Festival of Flanders that hosts almost 200 musical concerts. These concerts range from classic, modern, local and international music.
The Ghent Festivities is another famous festival that starts in July. This festival has many shows of music, puppetry, dance and street theaters, hence providing 4 in one flavor at the same time. The whole city turns into a huge festival lounge where you will see dances, music and shows at around every corner of the city. What a great time to be here and enjoy.
December brings the Christmas markets where whole city turns into a Christmas market offering all sort of entertainment and fun activities. With more than 150 stalls spread throughout the city, everyone is entertained with many musical concerts, street theaters and food festivals. Ghent city also hosts the famous Vegan Summer Festival and the annual Film Festival. The Patershol neighborhood street party is also very famous as well as Gent Smaakt. It means that if you are in Ghent, you will never get bored because there is always something happening around.